It’s re­serve team foot­ball that’s bro­ken,fix that

The Football League Paper - - BIG INTERVIEW -

There is only one topic on the na­tion’s lips this week: Greg Dyke’s con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal to cre­ate a new League Three has sent neg­a­tiv­ity into over­drive. I heard Brendan Rodgers back­ing the scheme on Fri­day morn­ing, say­ing that the play­ers pro­duced from some £300m of in­vest­ment into coach­ing in acad­e­mies need some­where to de­velop their skills be­yond youth and U21 foot­ball and into a man’s world.

I to­tally dis­agree with the pro­pos­als but I com­pletely agree with that sen­ti­ment. The thing is, the best lads from those acad­e­mies al­ready have some­where to go. The elite per­form­ers tend to find their way straight into first team struc­tures. Ross Barkley is a case in point. Jack Wilshere too. Lately, James Wil­son is on his way through at Manch­ester United.

Then there are the lads good enough for lower League foot­ball; out they go on loan to League clubs to de­velop their skills in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. Jack Gre­al­ish went to Notts County from Villa. Conor Coady went to Sh­effield United from Liver­pool. Sam Byrne went to Carlisle from Man Utd.

Com­pet­i­tive

Spurs sent a small group off lads to Swin­don. That is an evolved con­cept based on the loan sys­tem.

So the struc­ture of our game in this coun­try, where we can boast the best league in the world, al­ready has a means by which play­ers can be de­vel­oped be­yond U21 foot­ball.

I was a ben­e­fi­ciary of the old Foot­ball Com­bi­na­tion Re­serve League. If you weren’t in the first team at QPR, you played in the re­serves. No prima don­nas. The Foot­ball Com­bi­na­tion was a tough, com­pet­i­tive league in which young play­ers learned with great play­ers and against great play­ers. I got to play with the likes of John Gre­gory and Terry Fenwick, Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als, against the likes of Tony Adams and David O’Leary. It was hard. It was real. It was devel­op­men­tal. Re­serve foot­ball is where ‘B’ team foot­ball fits in. That is where the gap is. A proper, com­pet­i­tive re­serve league works. If clubs make their play­ers play in it, if prize money is cre­ated, I guess ‘B foot­ball’ might at­tract crowds and TV too.

There are ways of de­vel­op­ing talent. Parachut­ing a load of ‘B’ teams into a third league is not the an­swer. Dis­rupt­ing the or­der of our na­tional game is not the so­lu­tion.

I am the last per­son in this world to deny change. I be­lieve ‘he that will not change will wither and die’. But I also be­lieve in eq­ui­tabil­ity.

There are many club own­ers, all the way down in the very mi­nor leagues, who have in­vested their thou­sands to climb the pyramid. There are Ry­man teams dream­ing of the Con­fer­ence. There are Con­fer­ence teams dream­ing of the League. With ev­ery owner there are tens, hun­dreds, thou­sands of fans, play­ers, board mem­bers, club stal­warts. They have dreams too. They have given to their clubs in time, ef­fort, ideas, money, sweat, blood.

While Brendan puts the case for the gi­ants to de­velop their play­ers, let me put the case for the many more pas­sion­ate people scat­tered through­out the game who are busy try­ing to get to the same place as the academy lads.

No­body has the right to di­min­ish their op­por­tu­nity. No­body has the right to para­chute a load of ‘B’ teams in be­tween the pyramid and its promised land.

The fact is that there are plenty of devel­op­men­tal routes that can be cre­ated with­out hurt­ing the struc­ture be­neath the Pre­mier League.

I have taken Todd Kane on loan from Chelsea. I took Luke Free­man on loan from Ar­se­nal. I loaned Chuks Aneke from Ar­se­nal. I loaned Michael Doughty and Bruno Andrade from QPR. I took Lee Barnard from Spurs. I took Conor Hen­der­son from Hull City. I loaned Cur­tis Obeng from Swansea City. I hope those lads will say their loan taught them a lot.

Magic

I have also helped Steve Mori­son on his way to the Pre­mier League. Ge­orge Boyd and Simeon Jack­son like­wise. And Andy Drury, Lawrie Wil­son and Michael Bost­wick on their way to the Cham­pi­onship.

I feel I know what I am talk­ing about. It is good for the Pre­mier League that lads can go on loan and re­turn with added skills, as David Beck­ham did. It is great for clubs like Pre­ston that they get to share in the leg­end of David Beck­ham. That is part of the magic of our game. It is equally great that Morro can progress from Con­fer­ence South to full in­ter­na­tional; that is the magic of the pyramid.

It is about ev­ery­body. Not just about the big boys. Not just about the power bro­kers.

We all want the game to be­come bet­ter and our na­tional team to be­come stronger.We all want the best talent to have the best chance.

But we don’t want Steve­nage to be play­ing Manch­ester City B team in a League Two game in an empty away sta­dium with half the fan­base there to view talent that might play in the first team at the Eti­had one day. That isn’t real foot­ball.

We don’t want League

One to be pop­u­lated at the top by Man Utd B, Man City B, Ar­se­nal B, Tot­ten­ham B, Ever­ton B, Liver­pool B...while in mid-ta­ble are the clubs that will ‘go up au­to­mat­i­cally’ and just be­low half­way are the clubs that will con­test play-offs. The beauty of our game is that pro­moted clubs have a chance cre­ated by win­ning mo­men­tum. Not a medi­ocre con­fi­dence from fin­ish­ing 15th but win­ning mean­ing­less play­offs.

The lower leagues are not bro­ken so do not fix them. Pre­mier League re­serve foot­ball is bro­ken so do fix it.

Mod­ernising loan frame­works so lower league clubs can work as part­ners to big­ger clubs is fine too. That may well en­cour­age more in­vest­ment into smaller clubs. But those ar­range­ments must stop short of smaller clubs giv­ing up their iden­tity.

If Ful­ham had a part­ner­ship with Brent­ford that ex­tended five years, they would have their own play­ers play­ing on mass against them next sea­son. That can­not be right. So we need to tread care­fully. Loan part­ner­ships must be trans­par­ent. And limited. Pick a part­ner but don’t dic­tate who man­ages that team and who that man­ager has to play.

When Rangers and Celtic were con­sid­ered for in­tro­duc­tion into the Pre­mier League there was a fairly quick recog­ni­tion that we could not just gift sta­tus to some, how­ever big they were, while the pyramid clubs had fought since our foot­ball be­gan to earn their places.

I am no di­nosaur. And I ap­plaud Greg Dyke for start­ing the de­bate. My strong view is that he has cho­sen the wrong an­swer, but I agree with Brendan Rodgers that he may have iden­ti­fied the right prob­lem.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

DE­VEL­OP­MENT: Ge­orge Boyd cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing for Hull City against Ful­ham. Left Steve­nage’s Luke Free­man, cen­tre, and Ever­ton’s Gareth Barry

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